Environmentalists claim Line 5 shutdown wouldn't affect gas prices much

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Environmentalists fiercely opposed to Enbridge's Line 5 said Wednesday the Canadian oil giant is lying about the prospect of gas prices climbing if the pipeline is shut down in a bid to gain the public's favor.

During a virtual news conference, they cited court documents in a case involving an Indian tribe in which an Enbridge expert said transportation fuel prices would rise a half a cent in Michigan and Wisconsin.

"For at least the last six months, Enbridge has been aware that the shutdown of Line 5 will not significantly impact gas prices," said Sean McBrearty, the state legislative and policy director of Clean Water Action Michigan. "Energy experts and advocates have known that this is the case. We have been raising the alarm for years."

l-r, Mary Schihl, 76, of Clinton Township and Eileen Perkins, 78, of Clinton Township, support the shut down of line 5 and the protection of the Great Lakes.

The Midwest region — Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania — would pay between $4.8 billion and $5.9 billion more a year on gasoline and diesel, according to the study. The closure of Line 5 could increase regional fuel prices by 9.5% to 11.7%, if the fallout from prior disruptions to refineries due to natural disasters is any indication, according to a Consumers Energy Alliance study released in March

McBrearty said the recent court filings in Wisconsin by Enbridge came in its battle with the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, which is suing to expel Line 5 from its property land.

"Over the last year, Enbridge has spent millions of dollars in Michigan trying to scare the general public into thinking that there will be an energy apocalypse about Line 5, although for at least the last six months they have known that this is not accurate," McBrearty said.

Environmentalists fear an oil spill in the Straits would be a catastrophe, hurting drinking water quality, wildlife and tourism.

But Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said in a statement that "it is clear that a shutdown of Line 5 would only add to the current disruption of the energy market" and affect working families and small businesses.

The expert opinions of Neil K. Earnest, who was hired by Enbridge, "are estimates of what the price of gas would be after replacement infrastructure was built," Duffy said.

Duffy said environmentalists have "cherry picked selective portions" of Earnest's analysis that presents "an inaccurate view of the impacts of associated with shutting down Line 5."

But Beth Wallace, the Great Lakes freshwater campaign manager for the National Wildlife Federation, said Enbridge has been misleading the public, including lawmakers, on the need for the pipeline.

"For over a decade we have witnessed a company that will stop at nothing to keep their pipeline pumping," she said, adding that the oil giant has been hiding integrity issues that may lead to rupture.

The cost for gas has been rising given the volatility of energy markets internationally and Russia's war against Ukraine.

Gas prices have been spiking for months in Michigan and across the country. The average price for gas in the state, according to the AAA, is $5.214, up from $5.171 on Tuesday.

The pipeline has been a source of controversy. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, have sought to shut down the line that can carry about 540,000 barrels a day of oil and natural gas liquids through the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge wants to relocate a section of the dual pipeline in a new tunnel to be built beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The deal was negotiated in late 2018 with the administration of Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder as a measure to prevent a potential rupture from spreading into the surrounding waters.

The fate of the tunnel project for Line 5 is in the hands of the Michigan Public Service Commission, which could decide as early as this summer if the tunnel construction will move forward.

Duffy said the direct cost to Michigan consumers that Earnest identifies does not include the cost to the Michigan economy of job losses from the closure of processors who make propane available to local markets in the area or the potential oil refinery closures or loss of competitiveness.

But Michelle Woodhouse, the water program manager for the Environmental Defence Canada who was also part of the news conference, said viable alternatives to Line 5 can be implemented "to get the necessary oil to market."

The impact to gas prices in Ontario and Quebec would be two cents per liter, Woodhouse said.

"International energy markets control oil prices, not any one single pipeline and Enbridge knows this," she said. "Fossil fuel companies like Enbridge are raking in record profits while they exploit the current conflict in Ukraine and high gas prices as a means to protect their bottom line and keep Line 5 in operation despite the threat that it poses to the Great Lakes."